AUDIO: Listen to Portland Troublemakers at School

Attendees from 50 local unions and community organizations spent the day together at the Portland Troublemakers School, learning and organizing for the future of the Northwest labor movement. Photo: Peter Parks and May Wallace.

More than 250 enthusiastic labor activists and community members attended the first-ever Portland Troublemakers School April 13—a smashing success.

Attendees from 50 local unions and community organizations spent the day together learning, discussing, and organizing for the future of the Northwest labor movement. Some dedicated state workers and bus drivers traveled in from five hours away to participate in the one-day organizing school.

Energy was high. Excellent speeches were rewarded with thundering applause. Animated discussions broke out during the workshops, which included Beating Apathy, Union Democracy, Uniting to Fight Austerity, and Organizing Contingent Workers.

Sara Chambers from the Chicago Teachers Union led a workshop on lessons learned. Joe Burns, author of Reviving the Strike, was joined by workers and retirees from key strikes in the region, including Boilermakers and UNITE HERE.

Walmart workers active in the Food and Commercial Workers’ OUR Walmart campaign told how their confidence had grown to the point that they felt safe striking for better working conditions.

The conference was organized by rank-and-file union members, retirees, local union staff, and community members. Volunteers created printed materials, prepared lunch and refreshments, created workshop content, and organized social events with our out-of-town guests. Labor Notes staff in the national office provided sound advice, curriculum materials, and promotional support.

Learning about each other’s struggles “builds solidarity, teaches new tactics, and inspires us,” said Wesley Buchholz, a Laborers Local 483 activist. “Troublemakers Schools and the Labor Notes publication are two of the best tools we have.”

Amazing Range

The key to success was the organizing committee’s wide network of connections—from the Laborers, Plumbers and Pipefitters, and Service Employees, to the Industrial Workers of the World, day laborer organization VOZ, homeless direct action group Right2Survive, and Oregon Fair Trade Campaign.

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Rank-and-file activists carried the message into their locals and won endorsements and funding. Supporting organizations included IBEW 48 (who donated their training center for the conference), SEIU 503, Laborers 483, Portland Association of Teachers, Jobs with Justice, Letter Carriers 82, Plumbers and Pipefitters 290, UFCW 555, PERU, and PSO Oregon. Union print shop Morel Ink sponsored printing for the event.

We were amazed by the range of people in the room—it seemed that every job and industry imaginable was represented. In the workshops, day laborers, janitors, bus drivers, pipefitters, nurses, and teachers found issues in common and learned to appreciate each others’ struggles.

Although the conference itself was only one day long, the weekend was filled with Labor Notes-related social and educational events to encourage networking and discussion. Many new friends were made and connections strengthened. A spark has been lit in Portland.

Conference organizers plan to keep it burning by organizing follow-up social activities and other events. We discovered a hunger to rebuild a union culture in Oregon founded on friendship, solidarity, and a desire to wage a united fight.

We strongly encourage other Labor Notes readers to organize their own regional or city conferences for a truly memorable experience. To inquire what’s needed, email Samantha Winslow at Samantha[at]labornotes[dot]org.

Meanwhile, check out these links to listen to recorded sessions from the 2013 Portland Troublemakers School:

  • New Directions for Labor—Mark Brenner, Labor Notes Director
  • Beyond Bargaining: How Unions Can Fight for All Workers—Stephanie Luce, author of Fighting for a Living Wage; Joe Mizrahi, UFCW organizer in Seattle Paid Sick Days Campaign; Sarah Chambers, Chicago Teachers Union leader; Sindy Avila, HERE 8 organizer of immigrants; Angela MacWhinnie of SEIU's We Are Oregon community organizing project
  • Education Fightback: Contract Campaigns that Win—Sarah Chambers, a leader in the successful 2012 Chicago Teachers Union strike; Evan Selby, Emily Crum, and Jesse Reschke, leaders of the Reynolds District 2012 strike; Gwen Sullivan, president of the Portland Association of Teachers, which may face a strike this fall

The next Troublemakers School is in New York City May 18, 9 am to 4 pm, at 345 E. 15th St. Workshops include Beating Apathy, Dealing with Difficult Supervisors, After Bloomberg: A Union Agenda for New York City, and Labor-Community Alliances Done Right. Find more details and register online here.